Herbal Treatment for Malaria

QUESTION

Can any form of malaria be treated by herbs or plants, and how long does it take to recover from malaria?

ANSWER

Actually, two of the most important kinds of anti-malarial medication are derived by substances found naturally in plants, though they need to be processed in certain ways before the full pharmaceutical effect is felt.

Quinine, administered intravenously, is currently the first-line treatment for complicated malaria (i.e. when the patient has a history of high fever, plus additional severe symptoms such as impaired consciousness). It is derived from the bark of trees of the genus Cinchona, which are native to the tropical rainforests of western South America. Long known to native populations for its medicinal properties, it became known to Europeans in the early 17th century when the Countess of Chinch├│n, the wife of the viceroy of Peru at the time, was cured by it, having been suffering from what was likely malaria.

Similarly, artemisinin, currently used in combination with other anti-malarial compounds as the first-line treatment against non-complicated malaria (these combinations are known as artemisinin-based combination therapies, or ACTs), is derived from wormwood, a shrub native to Asia but now found throughout the world. As with the Cinchona trees, traditional healers in China had used wormwood to treat fever for thousands of years, but its use had been forgotten in modern times, until its rediscovery in the 1970s. Nowadays, artemisinin is not recommended for treatment alone, as it is feared this will lead to resistance developing, and so it is only used in the combination therapies described above.

If treated promptly, and with the correct form of medication, recovery from malaria can take only a few days. If not, recovery can take much longer (even up to weeks), and in the case of P. falciparum malaria, the most deadly kind, the infection can become life threatening in only a day or two. P. knowlesi (found in parts of south-east Asia), though less fatal than P. falciparum, can also become severe rapidly, and so prompt treatment is especially necessary for these two kinds of malaria.